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The hardest problem

Jon Udell: Ceci n'est pas une pipe

The packets blown to date on URI naming over the years, if concentrated, could comfortably take down half the root name servers. Interesting to see it spill into weblogs:

Do those URIs identify the map or the territory? We can never fully resolve such questions. Nor must we in order to build information systems that make sense to people.

Too true. And the thread is a mindbender as Sean calls it. Windley has picked up on it too:

The very essence of Applied Mathematics, and by extension, Computer Science is the notion of representation, naming, and abstraction. Confusion in these issues shows up quite frequently when students are learning about naming in a programming language theory course.

But, (there's always a but)... this isn't about making systems useful to people, not directly anyway. The whole reason this argument keeps rearing its ugly head on W3C lists is because people want machines to take on some of the inferential heavy lifting via the semantic web. And if you want the inferential machinery as being postulated by semantic web technologies to spit out something other than garbage, a URI has to be pointing to only one thing. However coordinating every web node to agree on that one thing seems like a losing approach; better to agree that there is some room for referential ambiguity and layer in the machinery to manage it. I'm on the record for making the relationship between URIs and Resource many to many, as a matter of practicality (which kicked off yet another thread on xml-dev). Some really smart people don't agree with that position by the way, but really the point of it is, as I said is a layered system.

[the second hardest problem]

January 28, 2003 01:01 PM


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